I think that all of us have to admit that this has been a strange summer, weatherwise. Thankfully, our normally three digit temps did not appear, however, three monstrous tornadoes – one right after the other – destroyed much of our local landscape. Fires and floods in other parts of the nation have wreaked all kinds of havoc and our prayers go out for those in Colorado who are struggling through some of those floods, right now, after having to endure fires. Abnormally cool temperatures up north have kept places like Alaska in igloo conditions. But now, the days are growing shorter and there is a different feeling in the air. County fairs are popping up and the sound of college football, with its background of cheering fans, dominates the television on Saturdays.
Fall used to always be hard for me. No joke. It seems that everything bad that happened, occurred in the FAll. For the longest time, when that crispness in the air appeared and the tell-tale muted sunlight of autumn days rose, I would get this feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach – a heaviness of spirit if you will. But that has since passed and now the Fall is my favorite time of year with Spring my second choice. I can’t wait for Thanksgiving and I so enjoy the baking, canning and preparation that I do like a squirrel storing up nuts for the winter! I’ve included a recipe for one of those meals below.
I’ve decided to give you a peek into one of those “bad” Autumns so that you might get a little picture into my ready-for-psychiatric-research psyche. Perhaps you won’t find me so strange after all. And then again, this story may make me that much more strange!! Read on.
It was the end of August of 1992. I was 38 years old, skinny, full of energy and the mother of two young children. My sister and her family had invited us to Dallas, from Mt. Pleasant, TX, to join them at Six Flags Over Texas. The kids were excited. I was ready for a fun day. And it was fun…that is…until we hit the kiddie ferris wheel (emphasis here on “kiddie”). My daughter, all of 11 years old, begged me to ride with her and so I hopped beside her in a swinging chair and watched as the safety bar was lowered over our midsections. Shortly thereafter, the gears ground, the music started and we were lifted probably a whopping one and a half stories into the air. As we came to the highest point, open swing rocking and pitching, I discovered, for the first time in my life, that I am afraid of heights. And I don’t just mean “close your eyes and don’t look” afraid of heights. I mean “scream in abject terror and beg for mercy” afraid of heights. I began to hyperventilate. I started to cry. My heart raced and I gulped for air between screams emitted through clenched teeth. My daughter grabbed my arm and tried to soothe me. She looked genuinely stunned and dismayed – not embarrassed that her mother needed a straight jacket and an ambulance waiting at the foot of the ride. My family members in the crowd below, however, looked like they wanted to change their names and claim no acquaintance with the crazy woman who was unraveling on the kiddie ride.
When the ride finally stopped, I fell out of the chair, onto my knees, and struggled to stand. My makeup was a mess but that was no comparison to my mental well-being. My daughter led me to find our family which had scattered in embarrassment and someone brought me a Coca-Cola to fill me with caffeine and make me crazier. I finally gathered my wits and returned to a state of calm, trying to laugh off my apparent phobia. We moved on to food and more fun. We knew not to put me on anymore rides that went more than a foot off of the ground.
I know. You are thinking, “So?” I understand. But that isn’t the end of it. We continued our Six Flags experience and as darkness descended, my niece indicated that, as a last ride, she wanted to do the Splash Water Falls, a ride that sends a boat down a steep slide to hit, bow first into a deep pool of water, sending a wall of water over a walk bridge that acts as the exit for the ride. Those standing on the bridge, at just the right location, get drenched by water cascading over them. I was actually able to handle that ride and even enjoyed it as we plummeted into the water. I’m thinking that it had to do with the idea that falling into the water is safer and less painful than spatting onto concrete from the height of a ferris wheel. My children and I exited our boat and climbed to the bridge to watch my sister and niece take their turn. I pressed way against the back, concrete wall to avoid the water that would inevitably come from their trip. My daughter ran forward to the railing to get a better look. In a series of actions that could only have taken seconds, I first realized that my daughter would be soaked (and would soak the car as well, since we were leaving immediately). I then ran forward to attempt to pull her back as I called out for her to move. She moved. But I was caught in the very center of the width of the bridge. That wall of water came over the top of the structure, full force, hitting me squarely in the chest, picking me up off my feet and tossing me like a rag doll against that back concrete wall and then onto my back on the concrete walkway. All of the air was knocked out of my lungs and I gasped, looking, I am sure, like a goldfish poured out of its bowl, flopping in a huge puddle of water. There was not one inch of me that was dry. Did I mention that I had on white cotton shorts and a white cotton t-shirt? I’ll leave you to imagine the result of soaking white cotton. The guy running the ride and a number of visitors ran to help me up. I could see, “Lawsuit” written all over the poor Six Flag employee’s face. Down below, my entire family was rolling on the ground laughing so hard that they couldn’t even get up the stairs to help me. They didn’t stop laughing until they realized that they hadn’t gotten a video of the whole incident to win $10,000 on America’s Funniest Home Videos.
I headed back to Mt. Pleasant, beaten, bruised and assured that my children were going to be advertising for a new, less embarrassing mother. And again, you say, “So? What’s so bad that you would hate Fall?” I’m not finished.
The following week, still literally blue and smarting from my tumble and embarrassed by my fits of hysteria, I went about my normal work which included taking care of our pet raccoon. Rascal the Raccoon had shown up at our home as an unweaned baby whose mommy had been hit by a car while he was clinging to her back. We took him in and nursed him, bottle feeding him to weaning. Rascal readily accepted house training like a cat and soon had run of our home.
A couple of days after the trip to Texas, I let Rascal out for a stroll. He was still pretty tiny and so I watched him carefully because I did not want him climbing into one of the huge trees of Northeast Texas. Of course, the first thing that he did was head for the biggest of those trees. I called out to Rascal and walked quickly to retrieve him from the tree trunk, not seeing the large tree root in front of me. The tip of my toe clipped under that tree root and I pitched forward. I tried to catch myself on my left leg, but my leg twisted so that my foot was inward as I continued to fall forward. The sound of a large tree branch snapping echoed through the Fall air as I hit the ground and I noticed that the lower half of my left leg, about 8 inches below my knee was laying in the totally opposite direction of the rest of my leg. It wasn’t a tree branch that had snapped. It was the bones in my leg. I did what any normal person would do. I screamed and screamed for help. And I reached down and picked up the wayward portion of my leg and tried to put it in the right position. Bad idea. My poor, stoic 11 year old daughter was the only person home and she came running out to see what had happened. She quickly assessed the situation, called a neighbor and brought me two ibuprofen and a glass of water without me asking. I was too in shock to know what I needed!! My neighbors arrived and slid a cutting board under my leg, securing it by wrapping and wrapping with a horse lead rope and then slid a blanket under me. They took corners of the blanket and lifted me to a car seat where I passed out. Two surgeries and a $20,000 hospital bill later, a year and a half of physical therapy and the leftover scars and arthritis of 3 plates with 13 screws, I walked out of the physical therapist’s office one Spring, relieved that I would not be a cripple the rest of my life.
Rascal finally grew up and wandered off to find a woman Raccoon, but he left us with an unlimited list of funny stories and precious memories. He was a wild raccoon and needed to go back to his habitat. We eased him from his home life to the great outdoors and he finally did not need us anymore.
So there is an example of ONE of my bad Autumns. As I have said, those memories are a distant past and now I can’t wait until I see our first scorpion – emphasis on the word SEE – because we know that Fall is just weeks away. I start getting the urge to cook heartier meals and fill the house with the smells of baking. Here is a recipe that I came up with to use our Shawnee Mills Country Gravy Mix for a hearty, lower calorie pasta meal (I’m on a diet you know) and Mr. Fix-It, my critic, gave it a two thumbs up.
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbs butter
1 lb chicken breasts cut into strips
1/2 lb ground Italian sausage or 1/2 lb ground pork mixed with salt, pepper and fennel seed
8 large shrimp, shelled
6 large mushrooms, sliced
1 – 2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
1 pkg Shawnee Mills Country Gravy Mix or Peppered Gravy Mix prepared according to directions
1/2 to 1 cup chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned (depending on your taste)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp oregano
1 tbsp. chopped red sweet pepper
1 cup smoked gouda cheese, grated
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
4 cups cooked bowtie pasta
Prepare Shawnee Mills Gravy mix according to directions. As 1 1/2 cups water is heating, add tsp garlic powder and oregano to the 1/2 cup water and powdered mix.
When gravy has thickened add tomatoes
And add chopped peppers
Add gouda and parmesan cheeses. Stir until cheeses are incorporated, cover with lid and set aside onto warm eye.
Toss chicken and shrimp with Cajun seasoning. Separate chicken from shrimp. Add 2 tbsps. olive oil and 2 tbsps. butter to skillet and heat skillet to smoking. I am using a cast iron skillet here because I think it is best for a blackened meat. Put chicken into skillet and sauté until browned with black areas. Add shrimp and toss until no longer opaque.
Add sausage and chop and stir until crumbles are cooked all the way through.
Place meats into a bowl and put into the oven that has been preheated to warm or put into a warming oven if you have one.
Return the skillet to the heat and add mushrooms to the skillet. Stir fry, constantly stirring.
Cook mushrooms until browned and add to bowl of meats. Toss to mix.
Prepare pasta in salted boiling water with a tablespoon of olive oil added. Drain well. Stir gravy sauce and slowly add to the pasta, stirring to coat until pasta is covered according to your tastes.
Spoon pasta and sauce onto 4 plates and divide meat and mushrooms to top each plate of pasta. Drizzle leftover sauce over the meats and then garnish with grated gouda and parmesan cheese with chopped tomatoes. Serve with garlic bread and a salad.
So there’s a Fall meal for you! Hope you are ready to dive into this year’s season like I am!!!